Despite the growing adoption of mobile apps, trading from a web-based platform still has significant advantages. Some of these benefits include a wide variety of order types for options traders, comprehensive charting tools for day traders, and the ability to create bond ladders. The web also offers numerous educational resources for new investors, and many experienced traders prefer large desktop monitors. The winners in this category have impressive web-based trading portals that can provide you with an abundance of helpful features.

  • Fidelity Investments
  • Charles Schwab
  • TD Ameritrade
  • Merrill Edge
  • E*TRADE

Fidelity Investments

4.4
  • Account Minimum: $0
  • Fees: $4.95 per stock/ETF, $4.95 plus $0.65/contract per options trade
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Fidelity features one of the best trade-routing engines, which results in lower trade costs for their customers. The goal of their trading technology is to achieve price improvement on customer orders. Customers trading quantities over 500 shares can often achieve more price improvement than they pay in commission. Fidelity’s portfolio analysis feature can help you see the full picture by letting you link outside accounts, as well as cryptocurrency holdings at Coinbase.

Fidelity has improved its entry interface since 2018 and removed a couple of ways that clients could make mistakes when placing orders. They also added a quantity calculator to the order ticket to stop customers from exceeding their buying power. They are planning some significant changes to the entire order entry process during 2019, which should improve the user experience considerably.

Education offerings and tax planning are well-integrated, and the site itself is simple to navigate. Their recently redesigned trade ticket reduces the number of clicks needed to place a trade. Fidelity offers a more sophisticated trading site called Trade Armor for those who want to design an exit plan when opening a new position. The website also features screeners for stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, and a variety of fixed income products.

Fidelity also received awards for Best Overall Online Brokers, Best for Beginners, Best Stock Trading Apps, Best for ETFs, Best for Penny Stocks, Best for Roth IRAs, Best for IRAs, and Best for International Trading.

Pros

  • Low commissions combined with superior order execution

  • Screeners include social responsibility, and themes such as 3-D printing, artificial intelligence, and founder run firms

  • Excellent education and research

  • Over 500 commission-free ETFs are available

  • Portfolio analysis helps customers understand their exposure to sectors, industries, and geographical regions

Cons

  • No futures trading available

  • Some features are hard to find due to the deep menu structure of the website

Charles Schwab

4.3
  • Account Minimum: $0
  • Fees: $4.95 per stock and ETF trade, $0 for Schwab ETFs and $4.95 plus $0.65 per contract for options
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Schwab customers can take advantage of their ETF OneSource list, which offers over 500 commission-free exchange-traded funds from over 70 different fund categories. The ETF screener on the website has predefined screens, and you can also build your own. Some of the filters available are performance, sector, risk measures, and portfolio contents.

There are three web-based sites available: the standard site at schwab.com, Trade Source, and StreetSmart Central. Trade Source helps customers generate trading ideas, while StreetSmart Central includes advanced options analytics and a live news feed from CNBC. Trade Source's Strategy Screener lets you choose plain English screens. You can ask questions like, "Which stocks have been up or down on a higher than normal percentage of the market's total volume?" Technical analysis from Recognia fuels the screener.

Charles Schwab also received awards for Best Overall Online Brokers, Best for International Trading, Best for Options Trading, Best for Penny Stocks, Best for Beginners, Best for Roth IRAs, Best for IRAs, Best for ETFs, and Best Stock Trading Apps.

Pros

  • Options traders can use the terrific risk analytics built by optionsXpress (a brokerage Schwab acquired)

  • The All-in-One Trade Ticket lets you build a trade for any asset class you are eligible to utilize, including options, futures, and futures options

  • The Idea Hub allows you to look for trading ideas, pick one, run analytics, and then hit the Trade button to open a position

  • Over 500 commission-free ETFs are available

Cons

  • There are three web platforms, and you may find yourself switching among them to use all the tools you need

  • A separate Schwab Global Account is required to cost-effectively trade most international securities, adding to the switching issue

TD Ameritrade

4.2
  • Account Minimum: $0
  • Fees: $6.95 for stock and ETF trades, $6.95 per leg plus $0.75 for options
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The standard website has added several options since early 2018. You can now customize your web experience using TD Ameritrade's Dock tool. Dock lets you include information from other websites such as Yahoo! Finance. TD Ameritrade is going through a process of breaking apart the tools and content built into all of the firm's platforms to create a unified set of services. As a result, clients are starting to see a more standard look and feel across platforms.  

Trade tickets are ubiquitous on all platforms, so you can enter an order no matter where you are. TD Ameritrade's order routing algorithms seek out price improvement, which can offset the cost of placing a trade. You'll also find streaming real-time data on all platforms. Streaming news and homegrown videos are an integral part of the TD Ameritrade website, along with a wealth of educational and product offerings. 

TD Ameritrade also received awards for Best Overall Online Brokers, Best for Day Trading, Best for Options Trading, Best for Beginners, Best for ETFs, Best for Roth IRAs, Best for IRAs, and Best Stock Trading Apps.

Pros

  • Easily created alerts let you define what kinds of reports you want and how frequently you want them delivered

  • Free independent research from a wide variety of sources

  • Over 500 commission-free ETFs are available

  • A watch list you set up on your web platform will also display on a mobile app

  • My Dock on the website dashboard can be customized

Cons

  • Higher than average commissions and margin rates

  • A glut of features across multiple platforms can make it hard to find the tools you want

  • Futures and forex cannot be traded on the main web platform

Merrill Edge

4.1
  • Account Minimums: $0
  • Fees: $6.95 per stock trade. Options trades $6.95 per leg plus $0.75 per contract
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Merrill Edge's main website offers a simple-to-use trading platform, while their MarketPro platform includes streaming data and more powerful charting capabilities. The site did not change much between 2018 and 2019. However, the menu system has been streamlined so that tools and features are easier to find. MarketPro has more customization features than the main website, and you can set up the layout according to your preferences.

Merrill’s website provides substantial help for setting and attaining financial goals. The Personal Retirement Calculator helps you estimate how much you’ll need to retire, and then it builds an action plan to assist with your wealth building. The Portfolio Story feature spells out how your assets are allocated by sector and class, and helps you pinpoint underperforming investments to generate higher returns.

The research features summarize analysts' opinions of your holdings. You can also check out the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) scores to see how your investments align with your personal values. The advanced web platform, Merrill Edge MarketPro, features streaming quotes and news along with interactive charting.

Merrill Edge also received awards for Best for Beginners, Best Stock Trading Apps, Best for IRAs, and Best for Roth IRAs.

Pros

  • Lots of help with planning for goals and assessing your progress

  • Life stage planning gives you specific guidance for your current situation

  • Extensively integrated with parent company Bank of America

  • Those with high balances at Merrill and Bank of America can qualify for commission-free stock and ETF trading

Cons

  • MarketPro access requires either a high balance or frequent trading activity

  • Frequent prodding to move assets into a managed account, which can cost more

  • No commission-free ETFs are available, though customers with high balances at Merrill and Bank of America can qualify for a limited number of free stock/ETF trades

E*TRADE

4
  • Account Minimum: $500
  • Fees: $6.95 stock and ETF trading
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E*TRADE’s standard web platform includes streaming real-time quotes, news, charts, and daily market commentary. You’ll find screeners to help you choose stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, and bonds based on your criteria. Those new to investing can put together customized courses to learn more about selecting and placing trades. They can also attend webinars and live events to step up to more advanced strategies.

There are some customization choices available to clients, such as preferred account and market information. Other news and information resources can be set up in a layout determined by the user. The main website is being modernized and updated to make it more accessible.

E*TRADE also has the Power E*TRADE web platform for more sophisticated traders. It offers options trading, charting, and analysis tools, such as TradeLab and StrategySEEK. Power E*TRADE builds on the OptionsHouse platform that E*TRADE acquired in 2016. Advanced traders can analyze and trade options on futures around the clock.

E*TRADE also received awards for Best for Options Trading, Best for ETFs, Best Stock Trading Apps, Best for Roth IRAs, Best for IRAs, and Best for Beginners.

Pros

  • The Power E*TRADE platform has exceptional tools for options traders 

  • More than 250 ETFs can be traded commission-free

  • Useful tools and flat pricing for bond traders ($1 per bond) 

Cons

  • Commissions and margin rates are on the high side unless you are a frequent trader

  •  You may have to use more than one platform to find all the tools you’d like to use

Things to Consider When Choosing an Online Broker

When choosing an online broker, you'll need to consider these three important steps:

  1. Choose the right brokerage for your investing style.
  2. Consider the features you want and their associated costs.
  3. Choose the brokerage that best fits your needs.

Step 1: In order to decide which brokerage works best for you, you first need to consider your investing style. Here are common investing styles used today:

You can check out exactly how these different methods work with our article on investment styles.

Step 2: It's crucial to decide which features you will need in a broker. You should consider factors like educational materials, research tools, news access, and how their fees are structured to assess what works best for you. If you are a beginner, it could be best to focus less on their charges and more on what kinds of educational materials they offer. On the other hand, more experienced investors may want advanced charting features and the ability to backtest.

Step 3: Now that you have thought about which investment styles and features are suitable for you, it's time to choose a broker. It's also important to keep in mind that fewer fees and commissions can also mean fewer features. It's best to research each platform before opening an account. Check out our guide to opening an online brokerage account for more guidance and information.

Methodology

Investopedia’s mission is to provide investors with unbiased, comprehensive reviews and ratings of online brokers. Our reviews are the result of six months of evaluating all aspects of an online broker’s platform, including the user experience, the quality of trade executions, the products available on their platforms, costs and fees, security, the mobile experience and customer service. We established a rating scale based on our criteria, collecting over 3,000 data points that we weighed into our star scoring system.

In addition, every broker we surveyed was required to fill out a 320-point survey about all aspects of their platform that we used in our testing. Many of the online brokers we evaluated provided us with in-person demonstrations of their platforms at our offices.

Our team of industry experts, led by Theresa W. Carey, conducted our reviews and developed this best-in-industry methodology for ranking online investing platforms for users at all levels. Click here to read our full methodology.